Wil Wheaton On Dealing With Bullies

Wil Wheaton, geek extraordinaire, was recently at the Denver Comicon when he was asked by a girl whether he was ever called a "nerd" when he was a kid and, if so, how he responded.  His reply was perfect.

I felt I needed to post a comment to his blog entry about this, but soon wound up with over 400 words.  That’s when I decided to re-use my comment as a post about bullying.

I was tormented from elementary school through high school for being different.  I wasn’t as social as the other kids.  I liked things they didn’t like.  I didn’t like things they liked.  I was smarter than them.

In high school, I became the target of a group of kids.  Individually, they’d pass me in the hall with no problem.  In a group, though, they’d get brave.  They’d follow me from class to class shouting insults.  They’d block me from entering my classes so I’d need to push past them and endure their heckling just to go to class.  I loved school for the learning, but dreaded the torment that every other second of school would bring.

I made one mistake, though.  I kept it inside.  I decided that not showing them any emotions would mean less ammo for them to use against me.  I pushed the hurt inside and built mental walls around myself to keep everyone – even people who weren’t tormenting me – out.  I began to get paranoid.  I was sure that any laughter in my area was directed at me.

Eventually, I told the one person I considered a friend.  At first, he didn’t believe me but eventually he became concerned enough and decided I wasn’t exaggerating.  He talked with the group of kids and they stopped tormenting me.  Turns out they were "just having fun" and "didn’t realize it was hurting me."  Exactly what did they think tormenting me every day was going to do?  (Answer: They didn’t think because they found it "fun" and never considered consequences beyond them.)

It took me a long time to recover from that.  In some ways, perhaps, I still haven’t.  Even though my high school years ended 20+ years ago.

My advice would be to learn from my mistakes.  Don’t seal yourself up.  Open yourself up.  Find friends and family to talk to.  Find people online or in person who share your passions.  Don’t listen to your would-be tormentors.  As Wil said, in the end this has nothing to do with you.  This has everything to do with them.  They are too narrow minded, too hurt by others, or too scared of not fitting in.  They are trying to get rid of their pains by putting them on you.  Ignore them.  Don’t let them define the rules of your life as you being bullied into submission by them.  You are stronger than they are.  You are passionate about what you love and you should never change that to suit someone else.

Math ala Common Core

This past weekend, NHL and I got our eyes checked.  As we needed new glasses, we picked out new frames and they rang us up.  After adding in frames, taking off what insurance covered, and accounting for co-pays and add ons, our total was around Twenty Two Tens dollars.

If you are scratching your head wondering just what type of figure this is, let me back up a bit.

I was helping NHL with his math when we came to the last two problems here:


It took me a couple of minutes to realize what they meant.  When they say 98 tens, they really mean 980.  When they say 893 hundreds, they mean 89,300.

The problem is that nobody in the real world speaks like that.  When I said that our glasses cost 22 tens, you probably thought it was some kind of weird typo.  If you were looking at a car, the dealer won’t quote you a price of $150 hundreds dollars.  They’ll call it fifteen thousand dollars.

So why are they framing the numbers in such an odd way?  To be honest, I don’t know.  Perhaps they want to stress the "tens place" or "hundreds place" with the numbers, but what they are ending up doing is confusing the kids.  NHL actually argued with me when I called 9,830 "nine thousand eight hundred thirty" instead of "nine hundred three tens" like he’s been taught in school.

As he encounters numbers in the real world, though, he’ll wind up being confused and will need to spend more time and effort learning the real-world method of talking about numbers.  Common Core purports to prepare students for college, but by teaching numbers in this manner, they are only preparing students (and parents) for nothing but more and more confusion.

Common Core Math vs. Old School Math

A couple of nights ago, NHL came home and began to do his homework.  As he did his math work, he began to get agitated.  Soon, he was in full-blown panic mode.  He was doing decimal division and didn’t know how to do it.  The method that they were being taught was confusing to him.

The problem that he was given was 1.62 / 0.27.  First, I’ll use the Common Core method that NHL was given as illustrated by this photo:


Do you understand how to do this now?  No?  Well don’t worry.  Neither did I.  After a day of thinking about it, I finally figured it out.  You draw a picture showing tenth segments totaling 1.6.  Next, you separate these out into groupings of 4 tenths segments (0.4).  Finally, you count the number of groups and you get your answer (4).

Going back to the original problem (1.62 / 0.27), you’d draw a picture like this:


(Where each line represents one hundredth.)

Next, you would separate these out into groupings of 27 hundredths.


Finally, you would count the number of groups and get the answer: 6.

I find two problems with this method.  First of all, you aren’t learning to actually work with the numbers.  You aren’t figuring out how to actually divide one number into another number.  Secondly, this quickly breaks down as you get to larger numbers.  If this problem involved the number 1.621, would you force the kids to draw 1,621 thousandths lines?  Would dividing 16.215 mean needing to draw over 16,000 lines?  At what point does the child learn to actually work with the numbers?

Now, let’s compare this to how I learned to do decimal math (“Old School Math”).

First step is to write out the problem like so:


Next, multiply the top and bottom by 100 to get rid of those pesky decimal places.  (100/100 = 1 so you aren’t changing the number.)


Now, you can break up 27 into numbers that, when multiplied together make 27.  1*27 wouldn’t be any help, but 3*9 would be.  You can also go one step further and break up the 9 into 3*3.  So now you have:


Now just divide the 162 by each of the threes.  The first one gives you:


The second gives you:


And finally, you come up with the answer: 6.

This method is much more scalable – you don’t need to write out a thousand lines to represent a number – and actually makes the student deal with the numbers.

When I showed this method to NHL, he understood it immediately and was able to solve the problem quickly.  Sadly, thanks to New York State’s implementation of Common Core, the teacher isn’t allowed to change her methods to suit the children.  Neither are the kids allowed to use alternative methods to solve problems.  If NHL is given 1.62/0.27 on a test and he solves it via the “Old School” method, he will be marked wrong.  Even if he gets the right answer, he will be told he’s wrong because he didn’t use the Common Core Approved method.

This course of action will just teach students to think INSIDE the box and that deviating from the set path is the wrong thing to do – instead of something that might result in a fantastic discovery.  Common Core Math will wind up turning many students off of math.  As a math geek, that makes me very sad.  I worry about NHL and his peers and their future education.

Setting Our Kids Up To Fail – ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ Parody

man_with_microphone_smallI usually don’t post on a Tuesday, but this idea was too good to hold onto.  Awhile back, I was listening to Pandora and the Pink Floyd song "Another Brick In The Wall, Part 2" came on.  As I listened, I realized this could be perfectly adapted to the current school situation.  After the recent events with Commissioner John King, it just made even more sense.  If you need a reminder of what the lyrics really are, check them out here or watch Pink Floyd sing the song.

One last thing.  I’d video myself singing this except: 1) I’m not the best singer around and 2) I’m currently battling something and am losing my voice.  Feel free to video yourself singing these lyrics and post them online.  Let me know if you do and I’ll link to them.

Without further ado, here is "Setting Our Kids Up To Fail", an "Another Brick In The Wall" parody:

We don’t need to test ad nauseam.
We don’t need no Common Core.
No high stakes testing in the classroom
Pearson leave our kids alone
Hey! Pearson! Leave our kids alone!
All in all it’s just setting our kids up to fail.
All in all you’re just setting our kids up to fail.

We don’t need only test teaching
We don’t need more Scantron forms
No death penalty for public schools
John King leave our kids alone
Hey! John King! Leave our kids alone!
All in all it’s just setting our kids up to fail.
All in all it’s just setting our kids up to fail.

"Wrong, You fail the test!"
"If you don’t take the test, we don’t know if you’re learning. How can we know if you’re learning if you don’t take the test?"
"You! Yes, you teacher. Stop teaching creatively!"

Here’s hoping Pearson, NYSED, and Commissioner John King leave our kids alone soon.

NOTE: The "man with microphone" image above is by laobc and is available from OpenClipArt.com.

Accountability, John King, and So Called Special Interests

special-interestsOur government is built upon a foundation of accountability.  We elect people to serve our interests in government.  If they don’t do a good job, we can kick them out next election cycle.  It’s not a perfect system, of course, but it’s pretty good overall.

This style of government was – in a big way – influenced by the events 240 years ago.  In 1773, the colonists revolted against the British Parliament for not having a say in how they were being taxed.  Today, parents, teachers, and students find themselves the ones without representation.

Throughout the country, Common Core and Race To The Top are being implemented.  Though I’m a fan of having a nation-wide education policy, in general, Common Core is just badly written and its implementation winds up giving corporate interests more say in our children’s education than we have.

In New York State, our kids were subject to a series of high stakes tests.  We were warned that scores would be low but that this would be a "baseline" by which future success would be measured.  Considering that only 30% of kids passed the tests, I’d say we’re setting the bar pretty low to start with.  The biggest issue here is the accountability, or the lack thereof. of all of the parties involved.

I’ve written before about Pearson education and how the lack of oversight on the tests combined with their business interests (selling textbooks and courses) gives them a clear incentive to have students do poorly on the tests they design.  Today, I’d like to focus on Commissioner John King and the New York State Education Department.

The New York State Education Department (NYSED) gets to decide education policy for all of New York State.  Districts can decide not to abide by some rules, but NYSED can "lean on" them to get them in line (for example, by withholding funding).  So when NYSED says the high-stakes tests are going to take place, local school districts have little say in the matter.

Voters don’t get to choose NYSED members – they are appointed by the legislature.  We do vote for the legislature, but many times legislators either feign ignorance or are purposefully ignorant as to what is happening in the education system.  It’s better (in their minds) to act outraged that high stakes testing isn’t making our kids’ education better and promise to get to the bottom of it, than it is to know how bad the situation is beforehand and risk being blamed.  Furthermore, the Commissioner gets appointed by the NYSED’s Board of Regents.  He is two steps removed from any voter accountability.

Recently, Commissioner King held the first in a series of town hall meetings intended to open a dialog with parents and teachers who were unhappy with the state’s overemphasis on tests and with Common Core.  (You can watch the town hall here.)  Parents and teachers who attended were told they would have an hour to make statements.  In fact, only a half hour at the end was allotted for statements.

To make matters worse, John King interrupted the statements period so that he could rebut the statements.  When the crowd got upset that their limited time was being eaten into, King remarked "We’re not going to go on until I speak."  Understandably, this met with resounding boos from the attendees.  At least one parent was escorted from the grounds by the police which soured the crowd even more.

After twenty minutes, the statements period was closed out and parents were told that those with written statements could hand them to a representative instead.  Commissioner John King ducked out the back to avoid any further parent interactions.

The very next day, Commissioner King cancelled all further town hall meetings, blaming "special interests" for hijacking the meeting.  Specifically, his statement read:

I was looking forward to engaging in a dialogue with parents across the state. I was eagerly anticipating answering questions from parents about the Common Core and other reforms we’re moving ahead with in New York State. Unfortunately, the forums sponsored by the New York State PTA have been co-opted by special interests whose stated goal is to ‘dominate’ the questions and manipulate the forum.

The disruptions caused by the special interests have deprived parents of the opportunity to listen, ask questions and offer comments. Essentially, dialogue has been denied. In light of the clear intention of these special interest groups to continue to manipulate the forum, the PTA-sponsored events scheduled have been suspended.

Let’s break this apart bit by bit, shall we?  First of all, he "was looking forward to engaging in a dialogue."  The last time I checked, a dialogue is an even back and forth.  If one person has all the speaking time and attempts to silence all dissenting opinions, it’s not a dialogue, it’s a monologue.  Dictionary.com agrees, calling it a "conversation between two or more persons."  It sounds to me like Commissioner King was actually expecting to monologue his way through the town hall meetings and didn’t expect to hit any dissenting opinions along the way.

Next, there’s his mention of "special interests" who "dominated" the questions.  The people who attended the meeting were parents and teachers.  Was he seriously calling concerned parents a "special interest"?  Or was he referring to the teachers who have seen firsthand the damage this is doing to our kids?  I, for one, am willing to embrace the label as I have two very special interests in the educational system:  They’re called my children!

He also mentioned how they dominated the forum.  The last I checked, during the two hour forum, King spoke for about an hour and a half.  He left only twenty minutes for questions and during that time he interjected to talk more.  If anyone dominated the discussion, it was Commissioner King.

I agree with Commissioner King.  Dialogue has been denied.  It wasn’t from some "evil" grouping of teachers and parents, though.  It was denied by Commissioner King himself.  He tried to manipulate the forum to his benefit, failed miserably, and then tried to pass blame to everyone but him.

Even now, people are calling for King’s resignation.  Sadly, I don’t think this will cause real change.  Instead Commissioner King will likely become a scapegoat.  He will be publicly fired and blamed for the fiasco.  Then, they will appoint a new commissioner to continue on the same over testing path hoping that parents and teachers will be placated by this token gesture.

Don’t fall for it.

The goal here is not Commissioner King getting the boot.  The goal here is to ensure a good educational future for our children.  The goal is to make sure that our kids don’t dread going to school because they’ve got test after test to take.  The goal is to stop punishing creative students because their answer doesn’t fit into the box that Pearson has drawn for them.  The goal is to allow teachers to assess how their particular students will learn best instead of forcing them to follow a "one size fits all" plan that actually fits nobody.  We cannot be distracted by a show firing because what is riding on this is our children’s future.

Demand educational accountability from the New York State Department of Education now!

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